Film festivals aren't just about the films. In the case of the San Diego Girl Film Festival, it's also largely about the filmmakers -- all of whom are women.
The annual event, now in its third year, provides a space specifically for female filmmakers to show their films and network with other women in the industry. The film festival opens Oct. 7 with a special advance screening of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, and runs through Oct. 9 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
"It's important to make a space for women, who are often marginalized in Hollywood," said Renee Herrell, founder and executive director of the nonprofit San Diego Women Film Foundation, which produces the event. "Even as film crew members, we can't escape the gender issue. By creating a space for women, hopefully we can help change the roles and present a more empowering experience."
The film festival showcases 60 shorts, documentaries and feature-length films over the course of three days. It also includes an awards ceremony, panels, workshops and a filmmakers' luncheon.
The goal is twofold. First, the festival strives to provide through its programming a diverse range of positive perspectives of women in media -- not just the glamorized, sometimes ornamental way they are often presented in Hollywood.
The festival also aims to support women filmmakers of all ages. The "girl" in the title isn't regressive; it's a direct reference to the young filmmakers the festival highlights. The Youth Voice program, screening Oct. 8, includes a number of short films created by high school students across the country.
"You have a responsibility as a storyteller to put out a positive message. Girls and young women are bombarded with the male point of view of women all the time," said filmmaker Lisa Fotedar-Miller, whose films "My Father's Eyes" and "A Good Scratch is Hard to Find" will be screened at the festival. "You hope at the end of day you can be an example, a role model, to younger gals. This festival does that -- it works very hard to nurture the young voices of tomorrow."
"I'm really excited that (the film festival is) reaching out to all these girls, who are very smart in terms of visual language," said Minda Martin, local filmmaker and assistant professor of communication at Cal State San Marcos. Her "Monsoon St., 77'" is the semi-autobiographical story of a young girl who struggles to attract the attention of her depressed, alcoholic mother. "Giving a venue space for those girls allows lots of young filmmakers the opportunity to screen their work in public. It's an ego-booster, but it also shows them that their work is important, that it does matter."
The filmmakers' luncheon on Oct. 9 is a chance for the filmmakers to network and for the public to meet these women. Herrell called it the "highlight of the festival."
"It's a great opportunity to have moms and daughters, dads and daughters sit down and talk with filmmakers about their experiences -- what avenue did they take, what opportunities are out there, what's the reality of being a woman filmmaker right now?" Herrell said.
The reality, at least for now, is that being a woman filmmaker is still a challenge. Women represent just 13 percent of all film and television directors, said Herrell. Part of the reason is simply a lack of visibility, resources and mentoring.
"There is such a lack of support for women filmmakers," Martin said. "Maybe these are stories that make people uncomfortable because you don't see them on television and in theaters. They're new, and people don't want to talk about women's relation to their bodies, to economic disenfranchisement."
"These stories need to be represented and told," she added.
The narratives include a film about Girl Scouts whose mothers are in prison, a documentary on Chicago's first women's tackle-football team, portraits of motherhood and aging, women's relationship to clothing, and what it means to be labeled a "tomboy" or "slut." These are stories that both celebrate womanhood and shed light on women's experiences of being stereotyped and marginalized.
Convincing studios and producers that there's a market for these stories is a major challenge -- but not an insurmountable one for women with courage, skill and imagination. Events like the San Diego Girl Film Festival help. And sometimes it means artists must create their own opportunities, as Fotedar-Miller did.
The Asian-Indian filmmaker began her career as an actress, but found a dearth of roles for strong female protagonists.
"To have a career in this business long term, you have to think in terms of good stories to tell," said Fotedar-Miller. "As an actress ... I wasn't finding that experience, so I had to make my own stories. I believe because of the way the business is, as an artist I will need to tell the stories that I want to tell, that I want to see told.
"As a filmmaker, it's important to have opportunities to network with other professionals who are going to have a similar perspective and objectives," she said. "This festival also provides a platform to get some visibility, because that's a big part of getting any kind of opportunity to work at the next level, where you can impact more eyeballs."
PROGRAM: San Diego Girl Film Festival
Organization: San Diego Women Film Foundation
Tickets: All-access pass $50, opening night film premiere and VIP party $25, day pass $30, individual film categories and features $10, filmmaker lunch $20
Dates: Oct. 7-9
Location: San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts, Balboa Park in the Casa De Balboa building
More information: www.sdwff.org